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martedì 10 dicembre 2013

Lions of Tsavo - Traverser

#FOR FANS OF: Sludge/Stoner, early Mastodon, High on Fire
In all of my explorations of specific little sub-niches of metal and searches for hidden progenitors and influences, I can sometimes perhaps forget the impact bigger bands like Mastodon can have on the small underground pockets of metal. They took what was at that point a cult, underground idea (sludge metal) and through superb musicianship and complex, involved riffwork, they took away the bleak sparsity that some would consider essential to sludge metal itself. Though the sludge aesthetic kept its presence in the riffs up until about 'Blood Mountain', they demonstrated a completely new take on the genre. Although not a whole lot in metal nowadays really sounds like Mastodon, there sure are a fuckton of people who listen to them, and there are bound to be tons of odd bands popping up that pay direct homage to them and bands of their ilk. Hailing from Austin, Texas, Lions of Tsavo is a nice little representation of what would have happened had Mastodon decided not to change their sound at all after they put out 'Remission'. Emphasis is on grimy, somewhat uptempo sludge riffing with a southern bluesy bite that brings to mind maybe something along the lines of Down. Think High on Fire, but with a little less bravado. One would think music of this nature would tend to be some interloping genre-straddler, but the focus and similarity of everything going on in the album makes this quite a straightforward sludge affair and it won't frequently wander off on an acid-fueled walk into the woods the same way Mastodon does, especially on their later albums. For people who prefer the band's earlier releases, this will serve as a nice little treat. For those of you who embraced Mastodon's transition to sludge-influenced prog rock, you're probably going to be slightly less amused with this album. The bitter southern grime taints all of the riffs, which vary in speed but not much in texture. Cleaner guitar sections are fed to you at the rate scraps are thrown to a dog; infrequently and inconsistently. 'Traverser' is clearly meant to be a winding maze of genre-less riffs, but the prickly undertone that permeates all of the heavier riffs blurs them under one banner anyways. That's not to say this album is one dimensional--the last two tracks have some really nice, relaxed Isis-esque jams--but the rough edge of the tone mixed with the dirty southern rock melodies makes for a sound that can end up rendering many riffs unrecognizable and forgettable if you don't eat Alabama Thunderpussy for breakfast. Reviewing 'Traverser' as far as the individual instruments go is a relatively easy task, because one musical aspect of this album is the clear strength and one is the clear weakness. The drumming is easily the best thing about this record, with drum fills and transitions smoothly interjecting, easy enough to follow but clearly requiring a great deal of skill to execute. Brann Dailor is one of the most obvious contemporaries in this style (are you sick of the Mastodon comparisons yet? I know I am), although the drumming here is much less outlandish and much more restrained than that spastic maniac ever was. The clear weakness would have to be the vocals, a series of never-quite-melodic shouts and growls that lack any sort of definite punctuation or charisma the way bands like this really need to have. One thing that really gets the point of sludge nailed in is the bitter attitude, and the post-hardcore esque wailing in an underground sludge metal format doesn't get any sort of appropriate emotions across. The riffs are a competent base around which the two disparate features form, only really interesting when more laid-back and melodic. "Circituous" and "Sea of Crises" generate some very evocative post-sludge, but the sludgier tracks are too spastic and dismal to release the tension they build. It sounds too aesthetically similar to High on Fire and too structurally similar to Mastodon to come into its own. It's still a worthwhile listen if you're into that style, though. Though not quite as infectious or distinct as one would hope their music to be, Traverser is still well-performed and, ironically enough, sort of compelling when it decides to relax a little. If you're completely strung out on your copies of 'Remission' and 'Death is This Communion' and need something that fills that void with different riffs, or if you're one of those sludge fans who has a soft spot for Isis, this could be of interest to you. (RapeTheDead)

(Toxic Asset Records - 2013)
Score: 65